A Change at the Top of the Governing Board

By Sean Cavanagh — July 22, 2008 2 min read
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Charles Smith, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, has announced that he’s stepping down from that post to take a position with the Washington office of ACT.

The governing board, which sets policy for the influential National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, has an important role in education policy, though one that, it’s safe to say, is probably not well understood by the public at large.

Smith, 69, says he has sought to change that during his tenure on the board. He took the position of executive director in 2003, not long after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.

That federal law requires state participation in NAEP reading and math to be eligible for Title I funds. As the NAEP results became more visible, Smith said he and governing-board members and staff have sought to hone the reports and information about the test to make them more understandable to the public and policymakers.

“The reporting today is much more impactful, as far as policy is concerned,” he told me. “We have dramatically changed the reports we release in conjunction with each assessment. They’re much more concise and more appealing to the public.”

He and governing-board members have also reached out to legislators and state education officials around the country to explain the role and purpose of NAEP. Last year, for instance, he spoke to members of the Oklahoma state legislature, at their request, about NAEP, talking about its role and even the kinds of test questions it includes.

NAEP is a test that produces results across subjects that are independent of individual states’ tests. In that capacity, researchers and policymakers rely on it as an objective yardstick for judging student progress. It also presents valuable information on student course-taking patterns and other data.

Smith will serve as vice president and head of the Washington office of ACT. The testing service is seeking to expand its D.C. operations, he said. After serving two three-year terms with the governing board, he said the idea of helping another organization build its operations appealed to him. The ACT job “seemed tailor-made” for his interests, he said.

A native of Sparta, Tenn., Smith had served as commissioner of education in his home state, and as chancellor of the Tennessee board of regents, before joining the governing board. In addition to working with the 26-member independent board, he has overseen a staff of 13 employees and an annual budget of $6 million.

The governing board meets in Washington late next week, July 31 through Aug. 2, at which time it is expected to begin discussions of hiring a successor to Smith.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.